Tuesday, February 20, 2007

South Cone's Sustainable Furniture-Making Serves Growing Consumer Demand; Activism at Seat of New Global Council

The Company
South Cone Trading Company
19038 South Vermont Avenue
Gardena, CA 90248
Phone: [310] 538-5797
Web: www.southcone.com

Founded: 1987
Employees: Started with just two. Now, 420 people work in South Cone's corporate headquarters; showrooms in High Point, N.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco; and in worker-friendly factories -- i.e., Ivope, in Santa Fe, Argentina, and Exportimo, in Lima, Peru.

Contact: Einer A. Elsner: einar.elsner@gmail.com

The Business
South Cone Trading Company makes and markets high-end home furnishings that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council [FSC], a nonprofit organization which promotes the practice of sustainable forestry by setting forth the world's strongest principles, criteria and standards that span economic, social and environmental concerns; and the Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood Program, which offers independent auditing, certification and promotion of FSC-certified forest products to improve forest management by providing economic incentives to businesses that practice responsible forestry.

The Buzz
According to the annual Co-operative Bank Ethical Consumerism Report and other sources, consumers' commitment to "green" homes is on the rise. South Cone is the world leader in creating products that enhance the beauty of homes and preserve the beauty of the natural environment, and is one of the furniture industry's most influential voices in promoting economically, socially and environmentally ethical goods.

Gerry Cooklin, South Cone's founder and CEO, has created an innovative new organization, the Sustainable Furniture Council, which brings together 40-plus representatives of the home furnishings industry, plus organizations that are committed to responsible business practices and promoting furniture that is produced in an environmentally and socially responsible way. The council is scheduled to become a legally chartered industry group sometime this month.

The Partners
* Forest Stewardship Council
* The Nature Conservancy
* Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood Program. SmartWood's global reach extends to 58 countries, with more than 1,675 certified operations covering 101 million acres. South Cone is among the FSC-certified suppliers of wood furniture and components listed in a free online resource from the Rainforest Alliance's SmartGuides.
* World Wildlife Fund
* Key certified-wood suppliers: La Chonta Ltd., in Bolivia; San Luis, in Bolivia; and Aurapel, in Argentina

The Catalyst
Gerry Cooklin was born in Peru and grew up in the U.S. After travelling extensively, the avid lover of the outdoors launched a home-furnishings company featuring South American goods, and dubbed it South Cone -- after the cone-like shape of the South American continent -- in 1987.

In just 10 years, as demand for handmade South American accessories grew, Cooklin built, then expanded, a small factory where he created home accents from reclaimed woods, and acquired a furniture factory in Argentina. By 1997, his creativity, design sense and management skills had grown South Cone into Peru's largest furniture manufacturer, responsible for 75% of the country's production.

En route to his company's meteoric rise in the furniture industry, Cooklin also gained a keen understanding of the pressures that industry and logging put on the environment; e.g., the detrimental effects of mahogany harvesting in the Peruvian rainforest. In 1998, after an epiphany, of sorts, while camping in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, he hired forestry engineers to improve South Cone's harvesting practices; developed new sources for wood; and researched alternative wood species for making furniture.

The Strategy
Cooklin was determined to make high-quality goods in a sustainable manner. Seeking like-minded organizations, he educated himself about FSC, an international nonprofit dedicated to setting management standards that allow use of natural resources without harming forests' long-term health.

The Process
After Cooklin's initial attempts to develop the first FSC-certified forest in Peru fell flat [evidently, potential Peruvian partners who owned logging rights in the Amazon couldn't quite grasp his vision of both protecting and employing the forest's resources], he moved on to the Pelcazu Valley of the Peruvian Amazon. There, The Nature Conservancy had already made great strides in promoting sustainable forest management.

Cooklin wanted to support The Nature Conservancy's efforts by providing the indigenous people of the Central Peruvian Amazon, the Yanesha, with a visible way to make a living, using sustainably harvested resources. So, in 2001, he formed a new nonprofit to realize his vision -- PaTS, which means "Mother Earth" in Yanesha, and is also an acronym for its mission: Partnerships and Technology for Sustainability. Through its "Sustainability Makes Cents Project," PaTS trains, finances and helps the Yanesha people design and manufacture products that are sold and distributed in the U.S. by South Cone.

The Financials
Economically, South Cone has contributed "many millions" to Peru and Argentina. [Exact figures are not available.] Environmentally, South Cone has saved nearly 60 mature trees per year from deforestation.

"It's hard to tell the exact number of trees," Cooklin reported to GoodBiz113. "But we have consumed approximately 400,000 board feet of certified wood per year for the past four years. The average mature tree species we work with provides around 7,000 board feet of finished lumber. That would mean 57 mature trees per year."

The Upshot
Suffice to say, conventional furniture manufacturers are typically far less selective about the wood they use -- and the manner in which it's harvested. Why invest so much time and energy in forging partnerships on another continent in order to source wood at premium prices? "We believe in the need for sustainable development in all industries," Cooklin replied. "The furniture business, in particular, has more influence over sustainable practices' success, because it adds the most value to the resource.

"At South Cone, we have an underlying philosophy of sustainability...40% of our lumber purchases continue to be certified wood because of our unwavering commitment to the environment."

Make no mistake: Earning that coveted FSC certification -- including logo use on products, marketing materials, etc. -- is a real coup for companies. "An FSC-certified piece is guaranteed, through independent third-party certification, to have come from a well-managed forest," explained Katie Miller, communications director of FSC-US, which has certified just more than 50 U.S. furniture manufacturers and distributors.

"The FSC standards are supported by the world's most prominent environmental groups, including the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Greenpeace, etc.," Miller noted. "In furniture without the FSC label, you just don't know where that wood came from and how the forest was managed. Were animal habitats harmed? Were civil rights violated? Were the logs even taken legally?"

Despite the logistics, rigorous certification process, etc., an increasing number of furniture makers are gradually climbing aboard the sustainability bandwagon -- both to meet consumer demand and to do the right thing for the planet. "Corporate social and environmental responsibility is certainly on the rise," said Miller. "As forest products of all sorts embrace those concepts, they often arrive at FSC as the tool to help them ensure they are doing business responsibly in terms of their effects on forest management. I hope this trend continues."

The Takeaway
Given his far-reaching success as a businessman and activist, is there anything Cooklin would do differently? "Many things," came his candid response. "It is hard to differentiate where the hurdles along the way are -- due to market or business challenges, or to resistance to sustainable practices in the culture at large.

"It's been hard to be the pioneer, because there's little opportunity to find synergies that were not being demanded by the market...We haven't leveraged from relationships with others as much as we would have liked, because of the challenges of running a business on two continents...We also invested more of our own time, energy and resources than perhaps was healthy for the bottom line of the business, because we are so committed to the cause."

To other would-be entrepreneurs and small-business owners seeking to form their own sustainable enterprises, Cooklin advises, "Form strategic alliances, join the Sustainable Furniture Council [if you're into furniture], and take advantage of a wider body of proven experience."

Glimpsing the trail behind and then ahead, Cooklin expresses both gratitude and a warning shot. "I'm jazzed that I can be part of a very complex and difficult solution. It will take the coordinated effort of many visionaries to secure the success of this enormous task...

"Most people think that there is much time left to do something about the imminent disaster that planet Earth is headed towards. My belief is that environmental problems are already a reality that will directly affect our lives in an exponential way in the immediate future."

Find environmentally friendly home and garden products at Gaiam.com

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Taste of the NFL XVI Raises More Than $500,000 for South Florida's Daily Bread Food Bank

On the eve of last Sunday's Super Bowl LXI, 3,000 guests assembled at Fort Lauderdale's Broward County Convention Center for Taste of the NFL, an annual fund-raising event conceived by Creative Cuisine's Wayne Kostroski. [See Jan. 29 GoodBiz113 "Cuisine Concepts at Heart of Taste of the NFL -- AKA 'Super Bowl Party With a Purpose' -- to Tackle Hunger in America" post.]

After a full evening of dining specialties prepared by award-winning chefs representing all 32 NFL cities, libations and live entertainment, at least $500,000 was raised for Daily Bread Food Bank of South Florida, an affiliate of America's Second Harvest -- The Nation's Food Bank Network.

"We won't have a definitive number for a couple of weeks," said Kostroski, TNFL's founder and executive director. "In excess of $500,000 will likely be available for distribution."

Generous sponsors allow TNFL to share the wealth of proceeds from ticket, merchandise and auction sales. Among this year's sponsors: Publix Super Markets, Gallo Family Vineyards, Premier Beverage, Xbox 360, Hard Rock Cafe, First Commercial Bank [Minnesota], The Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald, Ecolab, Oster, Mr. Coffee, and Sun Sentinel.

After catching his breath from last week's whirlwind trip to South Florida, Kostroski took a moment to reflect on last Saturday's dinner. "It was the best-looking event we have ever done," he beamed. "Comments from the guests were outstanding, and the flat-screen TVs above each food station were a huge hit."

Certain other win-win evening highlights scored with guests and, soon, Daily Bread Food Bank clients -- e.g.: TNFL's largest-ever auction; new team player reps, including Larry Fitzgerald Jr., and Maurice Jones; long lines for photos and autographs from the likes of Carl Eller, Earl Morrall and Donnie Anderson; new chefs representing the flavors of South Florida; and a stellar show by the rock band Styx.

"Styx even signed a Taste of the NFL football helmet, and auctioned that off with an opportunity for a photo with them after the show," Kostroski noted. "It raised $3,800."

Lest anyone think there's any timeout for TNFL, they're wrong. Kostroski and his able team of organizers, chefs, etc., are already planning the annual Super Bowl-related events through 2010.

"We've been planning since August," Kostroski noted. "We'll be at the Phoenix Convention Center next year, and are working on the Tampa event for 2009. The 2010 event will return to the Broward County Convention Center."

Then there are the local TNFL events held in a handful of NFL cities throughout the year. "We expect to add a few more local events in Miami, New York [Giants] and Tampa," Kostroski added.

For TNFL merchandise -- including limited-edition Super Bowl XLI prints by 3-D pop artist Charles Fazzino, the 2007 Restaurant Guide, caps, etc. -- visit the Taste of the NFL Store.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Blue Dog Relief Tally Reaches $750,000 for Katrina-Soaked Groups; Congress Acts to Help Keep Disaster-Stricken Communities, Small Businesses Afloat

As GoodBiz113 reported last October ["Louisiana Artist Brings Post-Katrina [Blue Dog] Relief to New Orleans"], George Rodrigue -- AKA the world-renowned "Blue Dog artist" -- has created a fund-raising initiative, Blue Dog Relief: George Rodrigue Art Campaign for Recovery, to help groups devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

To date, a portion of print sales -- i.e., We Will Rise Again, To Stay Alive We Need Levee 5, Throw Me Something FEMA [see image, above right], Cut Through the Red Tape, You Can't Drown the Blues and We Are Marching Again -- have channelled $750,000 to four not-for-profits:
* New Orleans Museum of Art [NOMA]
* Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross [ARCNO]
* United Way for the Greater New Orleans Area
* United Way of America

Wendy Rodrigue, George's wife, divulged to GoodBiz113 that another large gift -- as much as $100,000 -- is in the offing soon for NOMA, which is currently at 10% of its pre-Katrina attendance. "They have an incredible two-month show curated by the director of the Louvre, called 'Femme Femme Femme: Paintings of Women in French Society from Daumier to Picasso from the Museums of France,' opening on March 3," she said. "We will probably present the check opening night."

110th Congress Committed to Improving Fed Response to Major Disasters
Legislation aimed at addressing the problems exposed by Hurricane Katrina has become a hot topic in the new Congress. More than 35 bills have been introduced so far -- ranging from overhaul of the Small Business Administration [SBA] and Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], to appointment of a presidential commission to review the government's response to the storm and its aftermath.

It's difficult to handicap the bills' chances. But the new Democratic leadership of the House and Senate say they are committed to improving SBA's disaster loan process, making FEMA more responsive, approving critical Corps of Engineers flood-control and hurricane-protection work, and increasing the availability of rental housing in New Orleans.

The 2005 hurricanes received no mention in President Bush's State of the Union speech last month. Still, Donald Powell, the president's coordinator of Gulf Coast recovery, said that Bush remains committed to rebuilding the region "stronger and better than it was before Katrina and Rita." Powell added that it will take a "long time" to finish the work. So far, the administration hasn't embraced any of the bills related to Hurricane Katrina, which slammed into Louisiana and Mississippi in August 2005 -- nearly 18 months ago.

Here's a sampling of the bills introduced during the opening weeks of the 110th Congress. The measures would:

* Establish a presidential commission to chronicle the trajectory of Hurricane Katrina and the responses made by federal, state and local governments; estimate the loss of life, and physical and structural damage; and recommend corrective actions. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas., the bill's sponsor, said a commission with subpoena power could issue a credible report that will help avert failures the next time government faces a disaster like Katrina.

* Require SBA to extend to 18 months the time that a small business affected by a catastrophic event has to participate in a federally sponsored business-development program. Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., said many businesses were forced to shut down or scale back operations after Katrina, and shouldn't be barred from continuing in SBA programs when they are ready to do so.

* Revamp the process for handling SBA disaster loans -- including increased use of private contractors -- so that future applicants don't face the huge delays encountered by Katrina victims along the Gulf Coast.

* Require FEMA to forgive $570 million in disaster loans given to communities such as New Orleans, which needed the cash to continue providing public services at a time when tax bases were decimated by hurricane damage. In past disasters, many such loans were forgiven, but the previous GOP-led Congress insisted that the Katrina and Rita loans be repaid.

* Authorize Army Corps of Engineers work on a hurricane-protection project between Morganza, La., and the Gulf, and the closure of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, blamed for adding to the storm surge that inundated New Orleans.

* Establish a commission on "catastrophic disaster risk and insurance" to ensure that residents and businesses in vulnerable communities have continued access to insurance.

* Encourage nationwide availability of a 2-1-1 telephone service, by which volunteers and those who need volunteer help can learn of opportunities by dialing the three-digit number. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said the service can provide information about available food, shelter and vital services during emergencies -- especially when 911 systems are down.

Some bills are still being drafted -- including legislation by the House Financial Services Committee that would use profits from government-backed mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for rebuilding affordable rental housing in New Orleans. Another bill expected to be reintroduced soon -- after it failed to pass last year -- would authorize dozens of water projects, including more than $1 billion worth of flood-control and hurricane-protection work in Louisiana.

Sources: Newhouse News Service, Politico.com

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